|The Twin Towers of Theological Anthropology|
|Written by Mateen Elass|
C. S. Lewis freed me from the fear of enjoying fairy tales as an adult. In a collection of essays on literature he wrote, ““When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”[i]
One of the great advantages of fairy tales is that they can “smuggle” into the minds of unwary readers the deeper truths of life which are often otherwise ignored. Exposure to such truths over time can lead to a richer, more profound world view. So children (and adults) discover through fairy tales that the world is made up of good and evil, and that to fight on the side of good is the nobler path. We learn that the conquest of evil often demands great sacrifice, that love wins out over hate, that evil typically disguises itself in beauty. And of course, we learn that human nature can be transformed.
The first offering in Grimm’s Fairy Tales is “The Frog Prince.” We learn little of the original life of the handsome prince who now is cursed to live as a frog other than a spiteful fairy had condemned him to his present unhappy state until a princess should find him and allow him to eat from her plate and sleep upon her bed for three nights, a remedy outside the realm of all likelihood. The frog prince is doomed to his fate, until a princess happens by and accidentally drops her favorite gold ball into the spring which is his home. He makes a deal with the desperate princess as she wipes her tears, that he will retrieve her ball from the watery depths if she will agree to take him home, let him eat from her plate and sleep on her bed. Having no intention to honor her agreement with a “nasty frog”, she readily consents, and of course, once she has her prized toy back in hand, she bounds off without another thought of the frog. The frog prince, however, is also desperate, and he follows her to the castle. That evening at dinner, he knocks at the castle door during the dinner hour. The king wants to know what is going on, and the princess recounts the “silly deal” she had made with the frog. Her royal father says, “As you have given your word you must keep it; so go and let him in.” As a result, the nearly unattainable conditions set by the malevolent fairy are fulfilled, the curse is broken, and the princess wakes up on the fourth morning to discover a handsome prince “with the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen” now gazing at her from the head of the bed. With stunned delight she listens as he recounts the whole story, lauding her as his liberator. His greatest wish now is that she will accompany him back to his kingdom where he will marry her and love her all her life. As the story goes, she is “not long in saying ‘Yes,’” and they ride off in glory to a new life of exuberant joy.
Curse and rescue
The story of the Frog Prince follows in broad outline that of the biblical narrative concerning human nature: Paradise; paradise lost; paradise regained. The prince originally lives in glory, until he is cursed in a way that distorts his nature. The only option for his escape from the curse is beyond his power to achieve. The actions of another break the curse and the prince’s former glory is restored. He and his rescuer are joined together and live happily ever after.
In the same manner, Adam and Eve, originally created good “in the image and likeness” of God, dwell in the paradisiacal Garden in the glorious presence of God. But at some point they experience the Fall (due to their disobedience) with the result that their once innocent, perfect natures are corrupted by sin. They and their progeny have no ability to lift the curse, but must depend on the promise of their loving Creator that He will send a Redeemer. The rest of the biblical story is the unfolding of God’s solution to humanity’s curse, whereby through the inextricably loving sacrifice of His incarnate Son the perfect image and likeness of God will be restored to fallen human beings who still are the apple of God’s eye. In the new heavens and earth, God and His redeemed community will be reunited fully to an eternity of exuberant joy.
Creation and redemption
Like the frog prince tale, the biblical meaning of humanity (what the learned called “theological anthropology”) is built upon two foundational theological truths: creation and redemption. It is no surprise that these two themes are the key refrains of all the doxologies sung in Revelation 4-5 by those around the throne of God. The glory of God is enthroned on the praises of the twenty-four elders around the divine throne who sing in 4:11: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” Then in chapter 5, after the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (who is also the Lamb standing as if slain) is revealed as the one able to take the sealed scroll of human history and open it, thereby making sense of it, we hear a new song being sung to the Lion/Lamb with soaring elation: “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed sinners for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.” The glory of God is celebrated on account of the love He demonstrated in creating a good world and specifically a human race made in His image and likeness; and also in shedding His own blood (see Acts 20:28) for the redemption of refractory sinners. To quote Lewis again,
Twin Pillars of God's love
One of my mentors, Rev. Earl Palmer, drove these truths home with an illustration I’ve never forgotten. Using the image of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, he pointed attention to the two towers anchored into the bedrock of the Bay. Think of these as the twin doctrines of creation and redemption, rooted inseparably in the eternal love of God. The road suspended over the watery expanse represents the course of human history, and remains steadily in place due to two huge cables supported by the twin towers. Attached to those cables are smaller “suspender ropes” which shift the weight of the road to the unyielding towers. The course of human history is guaranteed by the indestructible love of God seen in the twin doctrines of God’s creation and redemption.
Because of this, we as Christians are reminded to look at all other humans as those created in the image and likeness of God, even in our common fallenness. From conception to death bed, life is precious in the sight of God. Not only does each person bear the image of God and the imprimatur of His creating decree, in the same way each human being bears infinite value as one for whom Christ’s blood was shed. Were we to see others through the lens of God’s remarkable love, would we not be more quick to defend the vulnerable, give to those in need, comfort the grieving, help prodigals to find reconciliation with God, sit tenderly with those near death’s door? God’s claim on all human beings is: “You belong to me, for I created you and I redeemed you.”
Value twice affirmed
God is like the little boy who all summer long whittled away on a block of balsa wood to create a sailboat. He took great pride in shaping it smooth hull and keel, creating masts and spars and finally attaching sails. Finally, late in the summer on a sunny afternoon he took it down to the lake in town to test it out. With great anticipation, he set it afloat and pushed it from shore. A gust of wind filled the sails and sent its prow majestically through the waters. Soon it was moving quickly and he sat entranced until it moved around a promontory and he lost sight of it. Running with all his might, he arrived at the other side of the point, but his boat was nowhere in sight. For the rest of the afternoon he scoured the shores, with no luck. As dusk began to settle, he knew he had to get back home. Dejectedly, with hands in pockets and head hanging down, he headed up the main street and past some stores. One of them was a pawn shop, and as he passed by the window his attention was caught by some movement. The owner was putting something new in the window. Incredibly, it was his sailboat! Bursting into the store, he cried out, “Hey, Mister! That’s my boat. I just lost it. Will you give it back to me, please?” The owner said, “I’m sorry, son, but I just paid money for that boat. If you want it, it will cost you five dollars.” The boy exclaimed, “Mister, hold onto that boat. Don’t sell it to anyone else. I’ll be back with the money!” Running all the way home, he emptied his piggy bank and counted out the necessary amount. With the change ringing in his pockets, he sprinted back to the pawn shop and emptied his cash on the counter. With a smile, the owner handed him the handmade boat. As the boy left the store clutching his boat with joy, he held it before his eyes and said,
That sums up the story of humanity. God says to all whom He has created: “Little children, you belong to me for two reasons: I made you and I bought you.” We would do well to remember that whenever the wellbeing of another human being is in our hands.
The Rev. Dr. Mateen Elass blogs here . The son of a Syrian Muslim father, Mateen is a resolute Christian and ambassador of the gospel. He has just completed a 3-year term on the PPL Board of Directors.